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EU leaders insist action plan to stem flow of smuggled migrants from Libya will save lives

Migrants and refugees are assisted by members of the Spanish NGO Proactiva Open Arms, as they crowd on board of a rubber boat sailing out of control at 34 kilometers (21 miles) north of Sabratha, Libya on Friday Feb 3 2017. European Union leaders are poised to take a big step on Friday in closing off the illegal migration route from Libya across the central Mediterranean, where thousands have died trying to reach the EU, the EU chief said. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)
Frances D'Emilio

EU LEADERS have insisted their strategy to stem a relentless flow of smuggled migrants from Libya toward the continent will save lives.

Buoyed by an Italian-Libyan deal reached on the eve of Friday's EU summit in Malta, the leaders of the 28 EU nations tried to forge a plan that would both stop more migrants from crossing into Libya's southern desert and thwart the smugglers from continuing to send migrants from the poorly-patrolled Mediterranean coast toward Europe.

Hundreds of thousands of asylum-seekers, most of them economic migrants ineligible to remain in Europe, have reached Italy in the last few years after rescue at sea from floundering boats, but thousands have also drowned or died aboard over-packed and often unseaworthy vessels.

EU leaders want to close down the route across the central Mediterranean through naval and economic assistance to the beleaguered government in Libya.

EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini told reporters the aim of Europe is to "decrease loss of life at sea and in the desert" of southern Libya along smugglers' routes.

Advocates for refugees cite inhumane conditions in Libyan detention camps where the migrants are kept after entering Libya illegally and while waiting months for their turn in smugglers' boats.

Doctors Without Borders general director Arjan Hehenkamp said the EU nations "need a reality check" and called the camps "dangerously overcrowded".

Ms Mogherini said the EU strategy would ensure "full respect for human rights" while aiming to stop the central Mediterranean route "on which still too many people are dying".

She said the summit would also yield "strong support" support to Italy, which has co-ordinated the rescue of hundreds of thousands of migrants at sea in the last few years.

Political pressures have been mounting in countries like Italy and Germany, which have been welcoming the rescued migrants, to take action to assure citizens that arrivals will be contained.

One strategy could be some kind of joint patrols by EU or Nato vessels with Libya's fleet just off-shore if Tripoli allows outsiders into its territorial waters.

Italian premier Paolo Gentiloni has said the Libyan-Italian deal calls for EU economic assistance to improve Libyan lives.

Mr Gentiloni called Italy's accord with Libya a "new chapter" in attempts to manage the migrant flow, saying Rome expected resources and commitment from the EU to make it work.

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